Career conversation with Isabelle Bigio, Founder at Bootstrapped

From doctor to startup founder, Isabelle Bigio, Founder at Bootstrapped NZ grew frustrated with being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and her hunger to create a positive impact has led her to hang up the stethoscope to explore the exciting world of startups.

We caught up with Izzy to learn more about what led her into medicine in the first place, the tough decision to make a major career pivot to explore an alternative path, and more about what inspired her to start Bootstrapped and where she would like to head in the future.

If you haven't heard of Bootstrapped or subscribed to their fortnightly newsletter, we highly recommend you do. Izzy does a wonderful job highlighting the many interesting things happening across the startup space in Aotearoa from events to funding, as well as some profile on some epic founders building cool stuff.

Thanks for sharing your story, Izzy.

Firstly, how would you explain to a five-year-old what it is you do?

During the daytime, I look after sick people and their families. In the night, I share stories about cool kiwis building cool stuff.

And for the adults, what does that translate to in regards to your day-to-day?

I currently work full-time as a junior doctor. When I’m not doing clinical work, I’m writing Bootstrapped NZ - a fortnightly newsletter designed to showcase all the cool things happening in the New Zealand startup ecosystem.

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger and was a career in tech ever on the radar?

As a kid, it was a decision between a marine biologist and a rockstar. I actually spent a lot of time playing music and songwriting (or attempting to at least). Fortunately for all, in my mid-teens, I put down the notebook, picked up the stethoscope and set out to pursue a career in medicine.

Retrospectively, I was drawn to medicine for a few reasons: circumstances that meant I spent some time in the hospital, a love of science, and a will to use my skills to create a positive impact.

Medicine, at the time, seemed like a logical choice. What could be more impactful than being a doctor?

At no point did a career in tech cross my mind. It was actually amongst the things I thought I’d never do (right alongside business and social media - go figure).

Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and what got you interested in getting into the startup space?

From the moment I decided to pursue medicine, I put all my energy into doing exactly that. I went to medical school and began work as a junior doctor. To my surprise, the reality of clinical medicine was not what I expected.

I found myself increasingly frustrated with being the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” - managing crises without the ability to prevent them from happening in the first place.

As a clinician, you see the downstream effects of how things like housing, education and income influence health but your scope to change those things through clinical practice is very limited.

When I realised my true passion lies with changing systems, I decided to resign. This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.

I’d wanted to be a doctor for so long that my identity was wrapped up in the job title - questioning that became very confusing. It took a lot of serious self-reflection to dissect that down and articulate what actually drives me: which is creating the conditions for all people to thrive.

I became interested in the startup space after Andrew Chen from Matu was kind enough to chat with a disillusioned junior doctor about alternate careers in science.

After talking to Andrew, I couldn’t stop thinking about businesses as a vehicle to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. The people working in startups today are literally building the future we will live in. I thought the only way I could affect societal change was through public health or policy - I was wrong.

Tell us more about Bootstrapped and the problem you are trying to solve?

I launched Bootstrapped NZ whilst doing the Startmate Women’s fellowship. I was fizzing with enthusiasm and ready to dive into all things startup but struggled to find a resource that consistently shared NZ startup ecosystem news (meanwhile my LinkedIn feed was dominated by Australian updates).

Alongside this, I’d been told that nothing of value happens in New Zealand and if I wanted to do anything worthwhile, I needed to leave and go overseas.

I wanted to challenge this narrative by creating a platform to celebrate and share stories from the NZ startup ecosystem, so Bootstrapped NZ was born.

Lastly, if you were to give the younger version of yourself some career advice based off what you know now, what would that be?

Oh boy. I doubt my younger self would listen, but I’d say: think carefully about how you construct the narrative of who you are and what you are capable of. It might just be the thing holding you back.

For the longest time, I didn’t realise I had unconsciously “decided” what kind of person I was (for example “I am a doctor” or “I am not a businesswoman”).

I put myself in a box with assumptions that weren’t necessarily founded in reality. Challenging those assumptions has seen me do things I never thought I would and that has been exceptionally fulfilling.

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